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    Why that jar of canned tomatoes might not taste so good
    • November 11, 2023

    Q. I canned some tomato sauce using a tested recipe and followed the directions exactly. When I opened the jar (only two months after canning it), the sauce looked OK but tasted kind of off. The jar was sealed, and when I opened it, it didn’t spurt out (like it does sometimes when spoiled). What could have caused the off-flavor, and was it safe to eat? (I discarded it rather than take a risk.)

    There are several possibilities here. I’ve had an entire batch of sauce ruined by one bad garlic clove.  Make sure all your ingredients are good because the canning process will not be kind to ingredients that are less than perfect.

    I suspect that your sauce became “flat-sour.” This can happen if the jars are left in the canner for too long. Cooling your jars too quickly by removing them from the canner immediately after processing can cause breakage or siphoning due to heat shock. On the other hand, leaving them in the canner for several hours or overnight can cause the contents to become flat-sour. This is a quality issue rather than a food safety issue, but the advice, “If in doubt, throw it out” is always a safe bet.

    So, if the food is safe to eat, but is unpalatable, what is going on?

    The canning process (whether hot water bath or pressure) will, when done properly, kill all bacteria that causes food poisoning. Some (non-disease-causing)  bacteria are thermophilic, which means that they can survive high temperatures.  (There are bacteria that thrive in Yellowstone’s hot springs, for instance.) These bacteria survive the canning process and will multiply rapidly at high temperatures. This process causes the flat-sour taste. 

    If you allow the jars to cool, while taking care not to heat shock them, and store them in a cool place, you can minimize the chances of this kind of spoilage.

    Q. I have a huge pine tree in my front yard (diameter 10-12 feet) & for years have watched squirrels run up the tree, eat the pinecones & drop the stripped cobs on the lawn. This year,  maybe because of all the rain, every squirrel in town is chowing down on the massive crop of cones, which means I am out twice a week raking up large quantities of cone scale bits & cobs to prevent this layer of ‘mulch’ from killing the grass. Is there anything I can do to keep the squirrels from the tree?

    If the squirrels are super-motivated, there’s scarcely anything you can do to keep them out of your tree completely. I’ve never heard of them munching on pine nuts, but there’s always a first time for everything.

    We have peach trees, so we have had our share of squirrel problems. I’ve found that planting something at the base of the tree will somewhat deter them from climbing up the trunk. We’ve used geraniums, lantana, or some other spreading shrub that grows about 2 feet tall. Of course, if they want to play “Mission Impossible” and leap from a nearby tree, there’s not much you can do but enjoy the show and hope a big hawk comes by to take care of things for you.

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    ​ Orange County Register